The Translator by Nina Schuyler

The Translator by Nina Schuyler
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Publication Date: July 2013
Categories: Contemporary Women, Literary

When renowned translator Hanne Schubert falls down a flight of stairs, she suffers from an unusual but real condition — the loss of her native language. Speaking only Japanese, a language learned later in life, she leaves for Japan. There, to Hanne’s shock, the Japanese novelist whose work she recently translated confronts her publicly for sabotaging his work.

Reeling, Hanne seeks out the inspiration for the author’s novel — a tortured, chimerical actor, once a master in the art of Noh theater. Through their passionate, volatile relationship, Hanne is forced to reexamine how she has lived her life, including her estranged relationship with her daughter. In elegant and understated prose, Nina Schuyler offers a deeply moving and mesmerizing story about language, love, and the transcendence of family.

My Thoughts: 

The first thing that intrigued me about this book was the cover. Isn’t it striking? I know we’re not supposed to judge books by their covers but how could I not? This one is gorgeous.

I was looking forward to reading The Translator for a few reasons. The premise sounded fab. Can you imagine what it would be like to lose the ability to speak your native language? Also, I enjoy reading about Asian cultures. I was eager to learn more about Japan and about Noh theater.

While I looked forward to all of those things what really drew me was the main character Hanne. She is such an interesting and realistic person. She knows best for the people in her life. So much so that her daughter hasn’t spoken to her in years and the author whose work she translated basically calls her a hack. In public.

Hanne’s first language is gone. Her career is in deep trouble. Her family is broken. She struggles, as many of us do, to find the meaning of it all. Where did she go wrong? What could she have done differently? Hanne takes a journey seeking answers and redemption.

It was a journey that I was glad to take with her.

Nina Schuyler‘s first novel, The Painting, (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2004), was a finalist for the Northern California Book Awards. It was also selected by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of the Best Books of 2004, and dubbed a “fearless debut” by MSNBC and a “great debut” by the Rocky Mountain News. It’s been translated into Chinese, Portuguese, and Serbian.

She attended Stanford University for her undergraduate degree, earned a law degree at Hastings College of the Law and an MFA in fiction with an emphasis on poetry at San Francisco State University. She currently teaches creative writing at the University of San Francisco.

44 thoughts on “The Translator by Nina Schuyler

  1. Sounds like a great book, though losing your native language is not that common, so I'm a little critical about that part of the book. But the story sounds nice


  2. I almost requested this one on NetGalley or Edelweiss yesterday because the premise sounded great. And, well, that cover! I'm glad this one worked for ya. I need to clear up a few more reading obligations before I snatch up anything else.


  3. Well first, total YES to that cover…beautiful!! The description of this novel is so intriguing to me. Seems like the author has managed to bring together a lot of different themes in a pretty seamless way…not easy to do!


  4. So glad I found your review for this one as I hadn't even heard of it! That gorgeous cover is a must own. And the story sounds well worth the read.


  5. WOAH! Losing my first language? That would be especially problematic for me, as I only speak English fluently. I'd be left with declarative sentences in Spanish and hand gestures to get me through life…


  6. I imagine I'd really enjoy this book. I study languages and also like reading about Asian culture, so I'll have to add it to my reading list! I'm glad that the characterisation seems to be done well too.


  7. Definitely and interesting premise. I watched a documentary about those who have this happen to them (very rare); one woman even lost her American accent, I think it was, and could only speak as though she were British. Weird how the mind works, makes you wonder what else we have tick-tocking up in there that scientists have uncovered yet…


  8. I agree- the cover of this one is amazing. I think the premise is interesting too, I studied neurobiology at uni and brain injuries are fascinating as the pattern of loss is never the same for two people.


  9. Sounds like a book my mom would love. She likes books set in Asian countries and her first language is not English (she's from Germany). Her birthday is next month–perfect! Thanks!


  10. Before I even read your review, I thought \”Nice cover!\”. I think it's one of those books I'd pick up for the cover alone. Interesting topic… loosing the ability to speak your first language. Sometimes, because i work in an English environment, I find myself forgetting the correct words to use when I do speak my first language 😀 Funny! This book sounds interesting, since reading The Third Son, I'm also quite interested in wanting to read more about Asian cultures.


  11. Well this sounds like a good one. And that cover is amazing! Although, I'm not sure how I'd feel if I fell asleep with it next to me and woke up with that mask in my face…Obviously one must think about these things 😉


  12. You're right, the cover is gorgeous and makes me want to dive right into the book to see what it's about. An interesting premise and I love books set in other countries. Japan isn't a country I have visited for my Around the World challenge yet, maybe this is a good one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, you always read such interesting and different books!


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